I'm developing a story with the following basic plot:
- At the start, my main character's motivating question is "Where is my brother?"
- As the story progresses, other problems and motivations get in the way and slowly push aside the find-her-brother quest.
- At the end, she finds the answer-- that he's been dead all along-- but by that time the question is almost an afterthought; not only is this answer something the reader probably already assumed, it hardly matters to my character either way anymore.
This question will not drive very many of her decisions, because other plot elements will get in the way and she herself will have a noticeable arc. And my hope is that watching her arc will be what makes the story interesting. But I worry that such a straightforward answer might leave readers disappointed, having expected some sort of narrative payoff.
The closest analogy I can think of is Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with the reveal that Rey's parents are
nobody special, and sold her for drug money.
The movie has gotten many criticisms, and one of them is that this reveal felt unsatisfying. But by that point in the story, the idea of finding her parents didn't seem to be driving many of Rey's decisions anyway. (I mean I could be wrong here, and if I am then maybe it doesn't work as an analogy.)
I guess my underlying question is, can payoff-that-isn't actually work?